Aggressive Bottas is a sign of things to come; Xevi Pujolar says ‘it’s looking good’ for Alfa Romeo

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Picture Credits Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake

Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix saw Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake lay down a marker for the 2023 F1 season. Having secured four points through Valtteri Bottas’ P8 – and seen Zhou Guanyu take a point away from BWT Alpine F1 Team – the team showed they are ready to make a claim for top of the midfield. The result means Alfa Romeo F1 Team STAKE is now P5 in the Constructors’ Championship and with both cars reaching the finish line in Bahrain (while their rivals stumbled) those in the Alfa ranks are confident for the season ahead.  


Alfa Romeo’s Head of track engineering, Xevi Pujolar, spoke with Pit Debrief and select media post-race to share his thoughts on a solid performance. The team’s running on Sunday demonstrated the progress made during the winter. Pujolar reflected on a well-executed race day plan – and a potential missed opportunity from qualifying. 


“The only thing we would say is we wanted to be in Q3, and I think we were close – we nearly achieved that. We put both cars in P12 and P13 and then it was fighting for the points. Our target was Alpine and McLaren; a good pace in the race; to have a good reliability – and I think we hit all these targets. We were ahead of Alpine and McLaren, we had two cars at the end of the race – good reliability…getting fastest lap so we remove that point from Alpine. If we can do like this every race, I will be very pleased.” Pujolar concluded. 


Nevertheless, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Alfa Romeo, as a poor start for Zhou Guanyu saw the Chinese racer drop back from P13. Having been just 3 hundredths away from his teammate Valtteri Bottas the previous day in qualifying, Zhou Guanyu certainly had the pace to be a factor in the race. However, Xevi Pujolar explained the issue: “With Zhou, he was just in the last part of the start pulling away – whether it’s too much wheel spin – and we lost some ground there. After that, we were just trying to see if we could get back into the fight.”

The promising Chinese racer could not haul himself back into the points after changing to the soft compound while the race wore on and so the team instead chose to go for the fastest lap to ensure the bonus point did not go the way of BWT Alpine F1 Team.  Such a shrewd move so early on in the season shows Alfa Romeo know exactly who their fierce rivals are, as highlighted by Pujolar stating “We removed that point from Alpine, at the moment they are our competitors.” 


Aston Martin F1 Team has shown that progress can come quickly and Xevi Pujolar explained the importance of upgrades throughout the season but warned against anyone expecting his team to be challenging Aston Martin just yet. “At the moment I will say it’s more Alpine and McLaren but for sure we will try our best to develop as much as we can, and we have to see. I don’t know what will be the development rate at the front or if they [Aston Martin] can have all the issues. At the moment, we will just focus on ourselves and try to develop as much as possible against what we see with the problems that we have… and let’s see what we can achieve but realistically at the moment I would say we focus more towards Alpine and McLaren.”  


Reliability was a major issue for Alfa Romeo last season, but Xevi Pujolar is not foolish enough to tempt fate and say all the issues are behind his team as he told media including Pit Debrief “I would say, I don’t want to say anything. I mean we’ve done a lot of work over the winter to avoid the issues that we had last year. During testing, we didn’t have any issues during this race weekend either. I think at the moment it’s looking good.” 


It’s very close between the midfield teams and Valtteri Bottas showed a new aggression – to go with a new hairstyle – by getting four places at the start. Pit Debrief asked Xevi Pujolar if we can expect to see such a driving style through the rest of the season. 


“Yeah that’s something that we have been working on over the winter just trying to improve the start on lap one and that’s what we want. To have both cars moving forwards just qualifying as much or as good as possible. If we can be in the in the top ten but then keep or gain positions…getting out of the traffic is the best to be able to reach points.”  explained Pujolar.


The midfield battle this year will surely be one with a variety of teams jostling for position. Due to the fact the midfield is so close, the development race will be very important this year. Pujolar described what he envisioned the development of the C43 to be: “I think for us the car from testing has been already a very good work with a very good baseline and we’ve got some development in the background at the factory and in the pipeline. So, I’m sure everyone will be pushing very hard just trying to bring upgrades, but we’ll follow the race as well and we want to keep up fighting with the top of the midfield that’s our target. We think we should be able to do that.”

“The plan is to keep developing and keep pushing just try to keep bringing upgrades and follow, the best as much as we can, with our competitors around us. That’s the plan, then we’ll see how everyone is progressing, but I think we can expect that it will be very tight for the entire season.” 

Alfa Romeo need both drivers firing on all cylinders for any prolonged challenge on the F1 Constructors’ Championship. Pit Debrief asked Xevi Pujolar whether the fact Zhou Guanyu had been able to return to Shanghai during the off season (and due to a recently relaxed Chinese border after several years) had made him more relaxed and settled.  


“I think yes he’s relaxed because not only he has been at home but also after one year experience and he knows everyone in the team and for sure he’s a much more solid driver. Even if last year already from race one he was very solid but one year experience and knowing everyone. Being at home for sure that helps and now we’ve got two very strong drivers working together to bring the team to the top of the midfield.” said Pujolar. 


Elsewhere, Otmar Szafnauer, the man leading Alfa Romeo’s current rivals BWT Alpine F1 Team, recently told media “We left Bahrain knowing we have some more work ahead of us. Returning to Viry and Enstone, we’ll debrief as a team, make the necessary improvements before returning to the track in Jeddah where we aim for a much-improved performance.”  

Even though the 2023 F1 season is only one race weekend old many people feel the eventual championship winner is a foregone conclusion (cough, cough Red Bull Racing). Nevertheless, battles elsewhere on the grid seem destined to be gripping to watch.  


Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo F1 Team STAKE’s website proudly stated this past Sunday ‘Four points claimed tonight bring the Hinwil outfit into the exclusive club of teams with more than a thousand points in their history – a sweet way to start the season.’ On this form, it is safe to say that many points will come their way this season as well.

Things certainly are looking good at Alfa Romeo and it may only be a matter of time before the team is looking at those in front of them – rather than simply hoping to stay ahead of their rivals behind.